How To Cross The Street In Vietnam

We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam late at night.  The streets weren’t too crowded and it seemed to be a typical city vibe for 10 pm.  There were a few pedestrians out and about and a light consistent traffic flow around our hostel.  Little did we know what we would be in for the next morning when crossing the street in Vietnam!

It can be a bit overwhelming when crossing the street in Vietnam for the first time.  We learned how to cross the street in Vietnam like the locals. It is a great feeling to accomplish such a task and we share our tips with you and a video too! Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

The next morning I awoke to the sound of rumbling traffic, scooters buzzing about, horns honking galore and what sounded like a blaring alarm, following by some sort of announcement on a megaphone.  It was 7:00 am and I just had to go outside to see what all of the noise was about.  I left Alan and Anya to sleep and down the 2 flights of stairs I went and out the front door to the street.

It was just a 2 lane road in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, but it was very active. I was amazed at how a few little hours could make such a difference.  In my mind, it was way too early for commute traffic.  I was apparently wrong.  I looked to the left and to the right and it was a constant and rapid flow.  As I glanced to my right, I noticed Gma Bev a couple of buildings down, leaning on the light post taking video of the traffic.

Of course I walked down for a quick morning chat.  She too was amazed by all of the traffic.  She had already walked to either end of our block and around the corners as well.  We both had no idea how we would ever be able to cross the street.  There were no traffic lights to be found and there was no traffic stopping either.  It was just a steady flow of cars, buses, trucks and scooters.  How is it possible people are crossing the street in Vietnam?

Hanoi Vietnam traffic in old quarter. It can be a bit overwhelming when crossing the street in Vietnam for the first time.  We learned how to cross the street in Vietnam like the locals. It is a great feeling to accomplish such a task and we share our tips with you and a video too! Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

Our hostel was located on one city block that was very small.  You could walk all of the way around the block in less than a couple of minutes.  It was as if we were on a small city island and had no idea how to cross the fast flowing river in front of us.  We had a little giggle about how we would starve to death if we didn’t get off of our “island”, as all of the restaurants were across the street.

Hanoi City Hostel Location

We took a quick walk together around the back of the block, along the smaller single lane streets.  We practiced crossing in these areas first, but it was terrifying.  We didn’t get hit, but it was difficult to navigate, so we just returned back to the hostel and waited for the rest of the family to rise for the day.

Once everyone was awake, we enjoyed our included breakfast and decided we wanted to go out and explore the city.  As we departed, we dropped our room keys off at the front desk.  At that time, I made a quick joke about crossing the street to the receptionist.  I also asked if there was any magical trick to crossing the street and to my surprise, she said there was.

Detailed instructions for how to cross the street in Vietnam!

She said we needed to think of the traffic as if it were flowing water in the river.  The traffic “water” would naturally flow around the obstacles in its path.  She also gave me instructions to follow to make it easier for us to cross.  I thanked her, and we were off!

This information was quickly disseminated among the family members and within 30 seconds we needed to put it to use.  We needed to cross our first street!

We followed the instructions to the tee and it worked!

Oh My! It worked!  How can that be?  I know how to cross the street in Vietnam.  I didn’t think it could be done.

It just went against everything we were raised to do and be, when crossing a street.

Hanoi Vietnam Crazy traffic.  It can be a bit overwhelming when crossing the street in Vietnam for the first time.  We learned how to cross the street in Vietnam like the locals. It is a great feeling to accomplish such a task and we share our tips with you and a video too! Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

We had plenty of practice during out 5 nights in Hanoi and became really good at it as well. In fact we were getting pretty confident.  We even crossed the highway, just like a local.  Well, it may not have looked as slick and smooth as a local, but we were impressed with ourselves.

Okay, so are you ready for your lesson?

Here we go…

How to cross the street in Vietnam!

  1. Remain calm
  2. Look both ways and take your first step
  3. Continue to step across the street and wave your hand at the oncoming traffic.
  4. **Key Info:  Remain at a slow and steady pace.  It is very important you do not change your pace, stop, turn around, back up or change course.  The traffic around you is like a flowing river and is anticipating your next move.  Make sure your next move it predictable! Otherwise it could be Kaboom!
  5. Continue to the midway point of the road. Now begin to wave your other hand towards that oncoming traffic.

Extra Crossing the Street Tips: 

    • Keep slow and steady pace.
    • Wave hands
    • We found it easiest to cross at an angle into traffic.
    • Remain confident
    • Groups should cross in a line – shoulder to shoulder rather than single file (one behind the other).  You want to take up the least amount of space for the traffic, flowing around you.

Believe me, if you follow these steps, it will be as if you have some super power invisashield around you.

Invisashield = It’s as if nothing can touch you within arms reach from head to toe. No one can see it, but it is your zone and yours alone.  It’s a sphere of “can’t touch this” emanating from your body.  You are invincible and no one will hurt you.

How To Cross The Street In Vietnam Video by Lars Wagoner  

With this newly acquired skill, we were now experts at crossing the street.  We could go where all local men have gone before.

We were da bomb!

We put our skills to use for the next few weeks during our time in Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) too.  Our confidence was tested a bit in HCMC, as the traffic was far busier than it was in Hanoi.

Did you know it has a population of nearly 9 million people and there are over 3 million registered scooters!  Yep, it was packed with scooters and about 3 lanes wide (not that lanes are observed) on either side of the road.  This was the big time.  We mastered our skill and graduated from the school of crossing the street in Vietnam. But it was really put to the test on New Years Eve. There were so many scooters and people, you couldn’t differentiate between the roads, sidewalks, parks or restaurants.

NYE 2015 Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

NYE 2015 Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam – Nope McDonald’s didn’t photo bomb, it is their plexi glass tree full of happy meal boxes.

On this night traffic was absolute insane.  It was like a sea of scooters driving on any surface they could find.  As far as the eye could see, scooters were everywhere. It felt like an army of scooter ants took over the city.  There was no looking left and right, they drive on any side of the street or sidewalk and even in the wrong direction. It is as if the rules just don’t apply to a scooter.  I was even getting so confident that on New Years Eve, I felt as if it would be wise to just control the traffic.
New Years Eve Saigon Scooter Traffic

It was about 11:00 pm and we were heading back from being out in the thick of the city party.  Trying to cross the big streets jam-packed with non moving scooters was proving to be a challenge.  I noticed 2 kids (maybe 8 or 10 yrs old) with a bike, trying to cross the same direction we were.  They were getting no where fast and we were in the middle of this scooter pedestrian mosh pit.

I decided to step in front of them and just place my hand on the car or scooter that was about to move forward in my path.  I did the wave the hand thing and it worked!  People actually let us cross.  It still wasn’t easy as we needed to wait for traffic to actually move enough for us to squeeze between the scooters and cars, but we did it.  Once we were on the other side. the two little local kids yelled out a big “Thank You!” in English.  It was so sweet.

Anyway, I think I was getting a little too cocky, but it all worked and we came out unscathed.  Something else was gained from the new skill as well.  For me, I am less stress when we are driving around all of these countries.  I no longer have that permanent state of fear while being transported.  Yep, it is pretty much gone.  That is until we are over taking the car in front and the oncoming bus or truck is about to hit us.  I still get a little panic at that moment, but the general driving and flow I now trust.

NYE 2015 Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam (3)

Okay, so what about you?  Tell me your stories, I really want to hear.  Have you tried to cross the street in Vietnam? What is your trick?  Do you follow these same steps or do you have some different advice to add?

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16 thoughts on “How To Cross The Street In Vietnam

  1. **Key Info: Remain at a slow and steady pace. It is very important you do not change your pace, stop, turn around, back up or change course… Make sure your next move it predictable! Otherwise it could be Kaboom!

    LOL!

    It’s hard to imagine that this works all the time. What can seem reasonably “predictable” to you, may not be that predictable to another person :'(

    Thanks for the vivid descriptions, your blog is the next best thing to a ticket there 🙂

    • You know Juan, I bet it isn’t a 100% guarantee you make it out alive. 🙂 That said, we didn’t see one accident. It is as if the pedestrian just does what they need to do and the others track them and move around. It’s so difficult to explain.

  2. LOL Heidi love it! The Old City was a piece of cake after I had practice in a heavily congested, insane, non-touristed section of town. This was about 30 minutes from the Old City and wow, I’d never seen volume like that in my life! Waving works and stepping one step at a time, SLOWLY lol….and waiting for the traffic to flow around you is one way to preserve life and limb on the mean streets of Hanoi.

    Thanks for taking me back to the city, and for making me feel like Froggr again, fun post 🙂

    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan! We had fun with this one. It was even worse in Ho Chi Minh City! The volume of scooters there was insane. Some of the footage in the video was from HCMC too. Glad it brought you back and even happier you stopped by to view.

  3. Love this post! Reminds me of the first time I ever saw a motorcycle driving down a sidewalk. They have the right of way! EEEK!

  4. Love this post- took me right back to Hanoi! I learnt this technique by observation. Imagine my shock when I had to cross the road for the first time all by myself in Hanoi; I swear I felt like a 5 year old without her mommy.

    • Hey Natasha. Thanks so much. Yep, we were right there at 5 years old with ya. We really thought “how are we going to go get food?” Ha! I guess when there is a will there is a way. We did loads of observation and tried to follow along with a local, but were scared the entire time. Once we got the hang of it, no problem. So glad it brought back the memories for you and thanks for stopping by.

  5. Love this…and who knew that there would be a system to something that seems so intuitive. (From your pictures, I can easily imagine I might have been stuck on the side of the street – not knowing what to do!)

  6. It’s amazing how your story can bring memories from 2008 rushing back!! However, crossing the street in Vietnam is not easily forgotten!

    Our experience in Hanoi was similar, got there late in the evening and traffic was no big deal. But what a shock the next morning! The advice we received was “just walk, traffic will move around you. No stopping, you just have to keep moving”. It works!! Amazing 🙂

    Thank you for the trip down memory lane!

    • Hi Celine. That is great that it brought back memories for you. We loved the experience and video is fun to trigger those memories. It is just magic.

  7. So true – New Year’s Eve traffic is daunting! Even though I have successfully crossed streets in Hanoi and Saigon, that night I did what seemed most logical to me. I asked a tall, Scandinavian, blonde tourist if I could cross with him. He agreed, and I knew drivers would see him for sure because of his height and hair. We Westerners definitely stood out and walked calmly at a steady pace. When we reached the opposite site, I thanked the stranger and we went our separate ways.

    • That is great Kim, good tip. It is fun and crazy all at once. We spent NYE in Saigon and found that traffic was packed, but nearly at a stand still, so it was a bit easier.

  8. I wish I’d known this technique in 2007!! Crossing the road in Hi Chi Minh was something I shall never forget…we made it each time but you’re right, the traffic weaves around you! My heart was in my mouth! We had been advised by our cruise crew what to do regarding just going for it at a steady pace and not to go back..the wave advice would have been good to know and made a difference. There are crosswalks but peeps…they mean nothing! 😉

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